Oct 26, 2012

Experiencing Difficulty with Your Mother-in-Law?

Ruth 1:16-17 (NKJV)
"But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
             As Christmas Day approaches, only a few months away, I find myself feeling surprised at whom God has placed on my heart.  Over the past year, my loyalty and love has grown very strong towards my mother-in-law. But, I haven't always felt this way.
When we first met, my mother-in-law was kind to me. She was staying with my husband then. Each time I visited his home, we became more acquainted. She talked about my husband’s upbringing and about her tragic divorce to his father after thirty years of marriage. Since, I had never been married, or been in a relationship which lasted for more than three years, I couldn’t relate to the commitment and heartbreak she described. It had been years since she had contact with my husband’s father and she had no desire to resume connection. Within a few months of the courtship with my husband, my mother-in-law returned to her home in England.
            When my husband asked me to marry him, I immediately started the guest list. I couldn’t imagine not inviting his mother. I called her and asked her to attend. She came. From my perspective, the wedding turned out to be very beautiful. I was grateful both LeeRoy’s parents attended without fuss. At the time, I didn’t consider my mother-in-law’s sacrifice to fly from another country or how uncomfortable she must have felt seeing my husband’s father again.         
Then, approximately three years after our marriage ceremony, my husband retired from service in the military. I wanted my mother-in-law to attend my husband’s retirement ceremony. My husband was convinced she would not attend.  One day, I called my mother-in-law, told her about the retirement ceremony and invited her. She politely refused. But I couldn’t accept her negative response, so I begged her to come. She reluctantly got on another plane and came a second time.
            As the retirement approached, I began to feel overwhelmed.  I was parenting a teenage stepson and a toddler while working full-time. After work, my husband went to the golf course on base. The caring of our home and children was left for me to handle. I was excited when my mother-in-law arrived. Someone to talk to!  I told her about the discord between my husband and me. Surprisingly, she was empathetic. Lovingly, she offered to care for my young son while my husband and I enjoyed a night out together. However, I was too afraid to let go of control of my family.
Over the next week, tension built up between my husband and his mother and my husband and me. Trying to play mediator between my husband and his mother and keep everyone “happy” consumed me. I blamed my mother-in-law for the extra tension in our home. Without consulting my husband, I confronted her. Hastily, I conveyed the message that she was no longer welcome. My mother-in-law left our home that same day and refused subsequent contact with me.
            Like so many times before, I tried to clean up my mess. I wrote to her and bought her gifts for her birthday and Mother’s Day. One day while she was on the phone with my husband, I begged him to let me speak to her. We spoke for the first time in years. However, rather than admitting I had hurt her, I simply justified my actions. My mother-in-law deserved a humble apology. But I was too proud to show her Christ.
            God has since burdened my heart about my misplaced anger and hasty words which hurt my mother-in-law so many years ago. Consequently, I began to pray for her. I also recently asked God to show me our relationship through my mother-in-laws eyes. God responded. One day our family drove to play in the snow. On the way, I reread this chapter. My bible was under the manuscript on my lap. The bible slipped to the side of my lap and an old prayer card fell from it. Written on the card was the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. I read the prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” -St. Francis of Assisi.
            I again thought about my relationship with my mother-in-law. I felt warmth return to my heart for my mother-in-law. I wondered what our relationship would be like today, had I embraced this prayer during our last encounter. For years, during mass in the Catholic Church, I sang these words. I realized I had sung them in vain. God deliberately placed a Christian in my mother-in-laws life.  But I misrepresented Him. Had I failed God?
During that last visit, my mother-in-law was clearly upset. I didn’t offer her peace. She spoke the hatred in her heart. I didn’t sow love. Even when I was to blame for hurting her feelings, I didn’t ask forgiveness. In her darkness, I didn’t show light and in her sadness, I didn’t spread joy.  By His plan, God placed me in a broken family of unbelievers. I had an opportunity to bring them to the arms of Jesus Christ. I was too sinful to respond to God’s call.
             I pondered over writing this chapter for months. Often I was filled with regret for my past behavior towards mother-in-law. I wasn’t sure how to even begin writing this chapter. While writing, I felt the pain I caused and cried. We are commanded by God to honor our parents. With wicked words, I failed God. I stopped many times to feel deep remorse and ask God for forgiveness.
Then one day, when I was feeling the heavy weight of who I had been, a song played on the radio. Soon I was tearing up again as the words flowed through me.  The artist sang about the devil’s ability to remind us of our past failures and wrongs. I heard my feelings being sung out loud. Then suddenly he sang, “I know what I’ve been, but here in your arms, I know what I am, I’m forgiven!” Incredible! I knew God had forgiven me, now I needed to forgive myself.  I immediately started to pray for my mother-in-law. I asked God to intercede and please bring a joyful and loving Christian into her life. Perhaps in the future, the person He will send will be the repentant me.
        Post Script:

         Approximately 6 months after my personal testimony was released to the public http://dlouyoung.blogspot.com/p/store.html my daughter read the above chapter out loud to my mother-in-law. As God would have it, the healing process had begun. And only one year later, I sat side by side with my mother-in-law at my daughter's high school graduation. God had answered my prayer to heal our relationship! Scripture is true; God loves loyalty and bestows his blessing and favor when we are loyal and quick to forgive others.

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